Tunnels and Hills

Underground tunnels

Nobody exactly knows how they got there or what their purpose might have been, but one guess is that the brick tunnels that run underneath the riverfront district may have been built to channel the various creeks and streams that run through the area while, over time, pavement and houses and such were constructed above them.

Pirates and smugglers likely used the tunnels as hideouts and many tales of mugging, robbing and murdering hapless victims end with the body dumped in one such tunnel. Houses were constructed with basements that walled off sections of tunnel, sealing off underground chambers, and that is part of the Legend of Cooter.

Cooter was a habitual runaway slave who hid out in a tunnel until he was tracked down by dogs who backed him into a dead-end chamber. There he was captured, beaten mercilessly, and then his owner chopped off both of his feet and left him there to bleed to death. You are in the presence of Cooter when you enter Lula's Pub in the basement of the old Stemmerman Building.

The pub is accessed by a long, dark subterranean tunnel and, once inside, you might see him standing in the back, lounging against the wall that separates the bar from Cooter's death chamber. Some people have caught a glimpse of him in the mirror above the bar, one patron claimed Cooter slammed the men's room door behind him, and one woman said someone was trying to pull her through that wall. The general consensus is that Cooter likes to play the jukebox, and prefers the music of dead artists—the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, etc.

Gallows Hill

Public executions were a major source of entertainment before people had television, and a concerted effort was always made to stage a good hanging where everyone could get a decent view of the proceedings, like at the top of a hill. Old Wilmington dangled many a scoundrel from the end of a rope at about the intersection of Market and Fifth streets, and it was a rare occurrence when the family stepped forth to claim the body and give it a decent burial.

Countless corpses were dumped in nearby mass graves, shallow ditches that covered the area, and to this day crews doing road work in that area still come up with the occasional human bone. Later this became prime real estate upon which to build the proverbial house on the hill, and the distinguished Dr. William Price built a lovely house for his family there in 1860.

Sure, there was the occasional scraping and scratching, the whiff of pipe smoke or candied yams or banana bread, the unoccupied rocking chair suddenly leaping into motion. It seemed to the Price family that there were two of them living in the house and they named them George and Robert—but found it difficult to blame these gentlemanly presences for the sudden snake infestation that at one point completely overtook the entire house.

A cousin came to visit one fine July day and she stayed behind while the rest of the family went out for a carriage ride. As she brushed her hair in front of a mirror, the temperature in the room plummeted, and then the mirror began to frost. Fingers ran through her hair and, in the mirror, she saw a man standing behind her, his hands in her hair.

Later the Chamber of Commerce occupied the house and currently it's the offices of BMS Architects. It seems to work well as an office building because that means nobody typically spends the night there. It is the hands-down favorite of Hirchak's ghost tour because it is the most actively haunted house in town and he can almost count on something spooky happening.

Guests have smelled that pipe smoke or baking bread or they experienced that sudden temperature drop. Sleeping babies in strollers have been known to wake up and scream. Some people have become physically sick and one couple saw the word H-E-L-P drawn by an invisible fingertip on a second-story window. Guests have been able to photograph mysterious floating white glowing orbs that sometimes engulf the house.

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Terms: Wilmington Ghost Stories: Tunnels and Hills

Wilmington Ghost Stories: Tunnels and Hills

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